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date: 25 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Cognitive literary studies include theories of narrative empathy, an affective and cognitive phenomenon of human intersubjectivity. The strategic narrative empathy exercised by postcolonial writers of fiction may contribute to the advancement of a human rights agenda that has been criticized as imperialist by postcolonial literary theory. The chapter considers attitudes towards universal human rights, dehumanization, and the postcolonial critique of human universals, sorting out failed and false empathy critiques. Recognition of writers’ simultaneous or alternating outreach to multiple audiences at different removes from the representational point of origin illuminates how narrative empathy in a postcolonial text can function differently for readerships close at hand than for distant readers. The chapter proffers a potential collaboration of human rights discourse and literary cognitivism (as an alternative to postcolonial theory) for apt responses to the calls for empathy and altruism made by postcolonial writer such as Edwidge Danticat.

Keywords: altruism, audience, dehumanization, empathy, failed empathy, false empathy, human rights, human universal, imperialism, strategic narrative empathy

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